Manish Maithani entered the Indian football scene in most dramatic fashion last year. Manish, known by very few then, was signed by Mohun Bagan and made his I –league debut against Viva Kerala, where he scored a goal in his five minute stay as a substitute. In his second match, he played against East Bengal in the world famous Kolkata derby, where he was given a place in first XI by Karim Bencherifa. In the high pressure derby, where even most seasoned players falter, this youngster from Dehradun not only gave a superb performance but also grabbed a goal for himself. From then, there was no looking back, he was quickly drafted in the Indian u-23 side and became a regular in Mohun Bagan midfield. His good performances continued for Indian u-23 side too, where he helped his team to win SAFF Cup and give a good performance in Asian games, where India qualified for the knockout stages since 1982. This season was bit of a disappointment as Mohun Bagan performed below expectations and 24 year old Manish missed a lot of action owing to injury, ironically, sustained in a Kolkata derby game. Even before I-League, success was not unknown to this lad. He was chosen as the ‘Best Player’ in Subroto cup in 2001, while playing for Army Boys in Bangalore. In 2008, while playing for Indian National Football Club, he was awarded the ‘Best Midfielder’ in Delhi league. In an exclusive interview with Indian Football Network, Manish Maithani talks about his early days and the road ahead.
IFN : Hi, Manish. Thanks for sparing sometime for us. Please tell a few words about yourself.
Manish : I belong to a family of five members, hailing from Dehradun. My father is an assistant engineer and mother is a house wife. I have two brothers, the elder brother is in merchant navy, while the younger one is studying in Dehradun.
IFN : So, when did you start playing football?
Manish : I found football attractive very early on. I started playing in my school, when I was about 10 years old.
IFN : How did you get interested in football, when most Indian kids get into cricket?
Manish : As I mentioned, I was attracted by this game during my childhood. It is not that I didn’t liked cricket, in fact I used to play cricket at the school level but football is the game which I love most.
IFN : Tell us about the footballing scenario in Dehradun.
Manish : Dehradun football doesn’t need any introduction. It has given some great players like Shyam Thapa, Ram Bahadur Thapa, who have played for prestigious clubs and the country too.
IFN : Tell us about your early training and coaches.
Manish : First of all I want to thank all my coaches those who helped me. They have a huge contribution. They have been always very supportive and helpful but whenever it had come to the game they were always strict and this is something which really helped me to improve my game. My first coach was Harvir Singh, who trained me when I was practicing in the local stadium in Dehradun. Then I trained under the supervision of Nirmal Singh in SAI sports ground school. Later, when I joined Amity United, Naveen Kandwal coached me. I also received guidance from Bernard Oparanioze when I was in Hindustan FC and Indian National FC.
IFN : In an recent interview, Karim Bencherifa, mentioned your name as one of the players he has transfomed. What’s your feeling on this? How much influence he has on you?
Manish : First of all, special thanks to coach Karim Bencherifa who has shown faith in me and I feel very lucky to have him as coach when I joined Mohun Bagan. I consider him as one of the best coaches around because he always likes working and inspiring young boys and enhance their quality.
IFN : What are the clubs you had played for?
Manish : I have played in Amity United Football Club (Haryana) – 2005-06, Hindustan Football Club (Delhi) – 2007, Indian National Football Club (Delhi) – 2008, and then I joined the prestigious Mohun Bagan (Kolkata) – 2009 – till now.
IFN : How did the Mohun Bagan opportunity came to you?
Manish : I was playing for Indian National FC, where my coach was Bernard Oparanioze. He recommended me to Mohun Bagan officials and coach. I was then called for the selection trails in Mohun Bagan. I came for trails in the month of April and after three weeks Mohun Bagan coach Karim Bencherifa selected me and I was drafted in the Mohun Bagan side.
IFN : How supportive were your family in your idea of being a professional footballer?
Manish : My family has always supported me specially my mom. They always wanted me to do what I like. So my family was always supportive to me.
IFN : Not many Indian footballers are playing for a club, where the players are being constantly monitored by football crazy fans of Mohun Bagan. How you felt initially?
Manish : Well, when I came into the notice of the football crazy fans of Mohun Bagan, it was a very special feeling for me. For any footballer, it is special because playing for such huge crowds always makes you feel special.
IFN : But at the same time pressure is immense. Do you think having such a huge fan base and expectations affect performances?
Manish : I don’t think that it affects my performances because it totally depends upon the individual and how he takes it. If you take it as a support it motivates you to perform well and if you take it as a pressure it can affect performances. We are all professionals and everyone knows how to cope with the pressure.
IFN : What position do you normally play in Mohun Bagan?
Manish : I normally play as a centre midfielder but I have also played as a withdrawing striker in couple of matches.
IFN : You were one of the scorers in the famous 5-3 win for Mohun Bagan against archrivals East Bengal last year in I-league. It was your second game and first Derby experience. Tell us about your experience.
Manish : Playing in the historical Kolkata derby will always be memorable for me and playing it for the first time was like dream come true. Till then I had only heard about it but when I was playing, it was an unbelievable and amazing experience.
IFN : Mohun Bagan did had a good outing last season, before losing the plot during the end. However this season has been a disaster right from the word ‘go’. What do you think is the reason?
Manish : I think it was not a disaster right from the beginning because the first tournament (Federation Cup) we performed very well and reached the finals. Later on in the I-league we lost some matches in initial stage but then we won some too. I think the performance this year was not so bad on the whole.
IFN : Tell us about your emotions while representing Indian u23 in SAFF and Asian games.
Manish : When I got the call up for the SAFF cup, it was unbelievable and I was very happy to play for my country for the first time. Later, I was also selected for Asian games. Representing the country is a special feeling and is a matter of pride.
IFN : You have played against a few good teams in Asian games. How far do you think we are behind the west Asian and Japanese teams in terms of skills and fitness?
Manish : I don’t think we are very far behind them in terms of skills and fitness. In recent past, India has improved a lot. I think we need to play more matches with them so that we know their style well and give them tough fight.
IFN : Your memorable game so far, in terms of your own performance.
Manish : It is definitely the Kolkata derby game I played last year (25th October 2009). It was my first derby, after an exciting game my team (Mohun Bagan) won 5-3 and I was able to score a goal too. It is one of the turning point in my career.
IFN : What are your future plans?
Manish : Like every player, I want to improve and play good quality professional football and represent the Indian senior national team.
IFN : Who are your favourite players?
Manish : In Indian football, I have great respect for Bhaichung Bhutia and IM Vijayan. In the present world football, I enjoy watching Lionel Messi, Xavi and Gerrard.
IFN : So, apart from football, what else do you do to relax?
Manish : I like reading books, listening to music and surfing the internet.
IFN : We heard that you like reading motivational books. In an earlier interview, Ankit Sharma said he loves inspiring biographies. Does reading these books really motivate sportsmen in the field?
Manish : Well, I am not saying that these books motivate the player directly in the field but I feel that these books help sportsmen to have a positive approach and are great source for self motivation which boosts you up to work harder.
IFN : What are the other sports you like or follow?
Manish : Apart from football, I like lawn tennis, basket ball and T20 cricket.
IFN : What would you have been if not a footballer?
Manish : Well, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. I always wanted to be a footballer.
IFN : Finally, any message for young aspiring footballers?
Manish : The only thing I want to say to all aspiring footballers is to work hard and play well. All my best wishes are with them.